Commentary: Sanford's stand on stimuus sends a message

This editorial appeared in The Hilton Head Island Packet.

Gov. Mark Sanford's decision to seek permission to use stimulus money to pay down South Carolina's debt sends a very clear and much-needed message: Individually and collectively, we must stop living beyond our means.

For South Carolina, it also means that when we identify a pressing need this state should address, we must not be afraid to tax people to pay for it. This pseudo aversion to taxes is one reason lawmakers end up robbing Peter (state trust funds set up for a specific purpose) to pay Paul (ongoing state operations), all while claiming to be good stewards of the state's money. It's poppycock, and we shouldn't pretend otherwise.

Sanford maintains that the long-term benefits of paying down debt outweigh the short-term gains from preventing budget cuts and job losses if the money is used to balance the state budget.

But his focus on the long term doesn't answer how we will pull ourselves out of this downward spiral in the short term. We'd like to hear more details about how paying down debt will help unemployment today or prevent the loss of critical state services. We'd also like to hear what he would do to set the economy right in the short term. Governing is about both.

The odds are against Sanford getting the go-ahead to use about $700 million of an estimated $8 billion in stimulus money to pay debts and meet long-term obligations. (He makes his case for it on the opposing page.) The $700 million is what Sanford says he has control over. The rest, such as money for roads and bridges, food stamps, Medicaid and workforce development, goes directly to various state agencies.

State lawmakers already are moving to take away what control he has, something Democratic Majority Whip Rep. Jim Clyburn made sure could happen as the stimulus bill moved through Congress.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Hilton Head Island Packet.